The New Orleans Saints did not enter the draft with an urgent need to improve its offensive line, but former Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk might have been too good to pass up, so the Saints snatched him up with the final pick of the first round.
With pass rushers Takkarist McKinley and Reuben Foster gone when the Saints went on the clock at No. 32, New Orleans snapped up Ramczyk in a pick that surprised fans but made plenty of sense inside the Saints’ war room.
“Obviously, I was surprised,” Ramczyk said. “I hadn’t had a ton of contact with them. I was keeping my hopes alive that anything can happen and sure enough, I got the call.”
In a weak year for offensive linemen, Ramczyk was the second tackle drafted – Denver took Utah’s Garett Bolles at No. 20 – in part due to January surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip.
But the Saints believes Ramczyk will be ready for the start of training camp, as they evaluated the Wisconsin product as a player who should have come off the board a long time before No. 32.
“Our grade on Ryan was at the top half of Round 1,” Payton said. “He was a player graded in the first round by every one of our scouts, so we felt good about that.”
Ramczyk actually quit football for a year after originally signing with Division II Winona State. His father suggested he pursue welding because it was “a pretty high in-demand occupation that pays pretty well.” But Ramczyk eventually missed football too much, so he returned to play at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point, then spent one season at Wisconsin, where he bloomed as an All-American.
Depending on how much Ramczyk plays as a rookie, he could not only be protecting Brees but also run blocking for Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.
“Very excited to be able to block for guys like that,” Ramczyk said. “Not everybody gets to do that.”
Both of the Saints’ incumbent starters at tackle are slated to come back with Terron Armstead on the left side and Zach Strief on the right. Strief, however, is entering his 12th season.
New Orleans sees Ramcyzk as a right tackle, a player who can compete with Strief and eventually take over for him.
“It is hard to find tackles,” Payton said. “When you can get young ones. … I think there is value in that player and again we like that he is prototype size, we love the makeup and there were a lot of things that we felt real good about.”
The 32nd pick was acquired from New England as part of a trade in March that sent receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots.
On Friday night, New Orleans was slated to have one selection in the second round and two in the third, with the latter pick in the third round also coming from New England as part of the Cooks deal.
New Orleans is still looking for help with its defensive front, having struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. New Orleans’ defense had 30 sacks last season and ranked 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt.